Lord of the Rings Trilogy

This 1001 book is starting to piss me off. Not only did it count a whole goddamn TV series as one film (slyly writing the length of one hour long episode instead of the full 10-hour marathon) but now it’s counted Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as one film. This is less annoying, as all three films appear on all of the other lists used, but think, two other films could have been removed to make up the numbers. Maybe two of the crap films I’ve already watched. Thanks book editors, thanks very much. I watched Olympia and the Spider’s Stratagem for nothing. Bastards.
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Babe

The film that made James Cromwell a perfect secret bad guy (see L.A. Confidential) and converting many meat eaters into vegetarians after seeing the consequences of the odd sausage roll, Babe tells the story of a pig, won by a farmer at a country fair, who learns to become a sheep-pig after being adopted by the farmers dogs. As a child, I remember greatly enjoying this film, especially the exploits of clumsy, prophetic duck Ferdinand who has aspirations of becoming a rooster to prevent being cooked in an orange sauce, but now I just find the whole thing tiresome. Especially the mice. What is the deal with the singing mice? I’m guessing they were probably used to introduce the various chapters in Rudyard Kipling’s book, but having them occasionally pop up and sing the chapter title, even though it’s written on the screen directly above them, just seems silly, and I’m sure they’re too small in comparison to the rest of the animals. If they were the inspiration behind the recent films of Alvin and the Chipmunks then woe betide anyone with a hand in bringing them onto the screen.
Choose life 5/10

Peking Opera Blues

Following the various pursuits of three women in 1920’s China, Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan) occasionally gets lost in its own labyrinthine plotting. The daughter of a general has joined a rebel organisation out to overthrown him by obtaining secret documents hidden within his safe. A female jewel thief on the run from the authorities tries desperately to reclaim her stolen loot from inside an opera house. The daughter of said opera house’s owner, an aspiring actress and acrobat, attempts to infiltrate the all male performance cast, much to her father’s distress, as having a female performer would ruin his business. These three plot strands are interwoven, with each girl playing a part in the other’s quest, but the repetitive forming of new plans, then immediately failing to follow them becomes jarring after a while, as does the lack of communication towards the audience – what is in the document everyone is so desperate to obtain? Why has the general’s daughter defected? Why are all the actors such screeching idiots?
At times the film borders on farce, with performers seemingly able to leap entire storeys, and audience members all moving in time during an unexpected gunfight, but the breakneck pacing, incomplete subtitles and looping plot structure let the film down.
Choose life 5/10

Decalogue

This isn’t fair. Dekalog is not a film, it is a television series. Originally made for Polish TV in 1987, Dekalog is a set of ten hour long episodes, each based, occasionally so loosely that the basis is unrecognisable, on each of the ten commandments. I’m sorry, but to qualify being featured in a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I think one of the predominant criteria should be that you are in fact a movie. If the conditions are so lax as to allow this television series, why not others? Band of Brothers was pretty damn good, as was Firefly. Arrested Development revolutionised the modern sitcom, I Love Lucy infamously first utilised the multi-camera setup and the Cosby Show was the first to star a famous stand-up comedian. Hell, why not all 86 episodes of the Sopranos or 156 of the West Wing?

Serenity

As I sit here in my Browncoats t-shirt, Firefly and Dollhouse boxsets worn and well loved on the shelf, it could be said that I’m a little biased about Serenity, Joss Whedon’s Firefly spinoff, created to tie up some of the loose threads after the incredibly popular and successful TV show was inexplicably cancelled after just one hugely entertaining series. Don’t be fooled, it’s not just another Star Trek, Battlestar or Farscape, Firefly is entirely its own creature, described more as a western, that just happens to be set largely in space, in the distant future after the Earth’s resources have been depleted and mankind has sought domicile elsewhere, ‘terra-forming’ other worlds to create habitable Earth-like planets.
All I can do is compare this to the TV show, but this is a mistake, and something I really don’t advise. The show had fourteen 45 minute episodes to introduce the characters and build on their relationships, steadily building a fan-base whilst taking the characters on various adventures and quests, whereas Serenity must introduce said characters, display and possibly develop their respective personalities and relationships, and also take them on some kind of journey, all within the space of a couple of hours, whilst covering as little familiar ground as possible, so as not to annoy the existing fans. It does this well enough, with an early extended steadi-cam shot establishing the members of the central crew-come-family, their individual characteristics, unusual manner of speech (“she is starting to damage my calm”) as they make their way around the good ship Serenity, even introducing new characters, like Chiwetel Eijofor’s nameless operative and David Krumholtz’s Mr. Universe, essentially a trial for the character of Topher in Dollhouse (and what is Inara but a doll herself?).  Some of the dialogue and mythology is a little thick for the uninitiated, but if anything it should pique their interest, enticing them to watch the show and embrace the culture.
Personally, after the events of Serenity, I’d rather they didn’t continue Firefly with any more series (although I don’t think there’s much danger of that) as certain characters are lost and conclusions reached that made the original show what it was. To find out exactly what I’m talking about, go forth and view at your pleasure, I guarantee you’ll find it shiny.
Choose film 8/10

Borat

Borat is one of those films made for watching in a group, post-pub session, after a few bevvies. Its premise is simple. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Kazakhstan television presenter Borah Sagdiyev, on a journey to America to learn more about their country and their culture, whilst educating the world about Kazakhstan. Or at least, that’s the setup. In actual fact, Cohen is on a mission to shock, offend and embarrass everyone he comes into contact with, using his bumbling, uneducated, sexist, racist alter ego to coax out extreme reactions from the unwitting public. I feel this film would have worked better, and been taken more seriously, as a Michael Moore style exposé, but is spoiled by the excessive and distasteful humour, calling a black man a ‘genuine chocolate face’ and celebrating the traditional Kazakh festival of the ‘Running of the Jew’, depicting Jews as goblin-like monsters that lay eggs, which children are encouraged to attack. Yes, it is all posed in jest, but the butt of some of the jokes is Kazakhstan, a nation that probably doesn’t deserve it. Maybe it is playing on the perceptions of the public of such countries, but that’s not how it comes across. That being said, there was a nice Laurel and Hardy gag that made me chuckle, and the depth to which Cohen and Ken Davitian, playing Borat’s producer Azamat, sink themselves into their roles is admirable, up to a very public naked tussle the two share in a hotel (“My moustache still tastes of your testes”).
Choose life 3/10

Brokeback Mountain

Another one I’d never seen before, Brokeback Mountain has a reputation to live up to, but of what I didn’t really know. Yes, I was aware it was about two cowboys, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall, and that between these two, something happened in a tent, involving at least one of their man-parts and the other’s posterior, but as to how this would support a feature length picture I did not know. Wisely, director Ang Lee gets past the, ahem, climax early on, spending a greater deal of time depicting the aftermath of the relationship Ledger’s ranch hand Ennis Del Mar and Gyllenhall’s rodeo cowboy Jack Twist form on the time they spend herding goats together. Ledger easily surpasses Gyllenhall on the acting front, mumbling his way through the difficulties that come with having an affair, and Michelle Williams also impresses as his put-upon spouse, realising the truth about her husband yet living in acceptance and despair. The slow pace of the film allowed for some great character interactions too, and I approved of the film only featuring important sections from the central relationship and nothing else, with what some would describe as pivotal events – Twist’s marriage to rodeo girl Anne Hathaway or the birth of Del Mar’s two children – being skipped entirely, as to the main couple these were of secondary importance to the connection the two had with each other.
Choose film 7/10